Twangin’ on Heartstrings.
August 17, 2016
It was 2006 and I was a freshman at the University of Wyoming. As a welcome-back-to-school event, iTunes offered a handful of free playlists and mp3 tracks for anyone with a school e-mail address. For me, Brandi Carlile awakened my eyes to the beauty of harmony, of folk music, and of embracing love and sexuality despite the noise.
Today everyone wants to claim they were the original fans. They heard [insert band name here] play whatever song for the first time at some festival, “The band came into my life at the most incredible time,” etc. Honestly, in 2016 I will take overenthusiastic passion over apathy any day. But why Jackson folks, and presumably many others, feel like they have to justify precisely how long they’ve been doing something or living somewhere in order to look impressive or interesting, I’ll never know. (Hell, I’m guilty of it too. Can someone please fund a psychological study of weird-ass mountain town social habits?) But I digress…
I, like many Carlile fans in the valley, was not able to afford tickets to the Center for the Arts fundraiser last Tuesday. She’s played Targhee Fest a handful of times and made her first appearance in Jackson at a sold-out Mangy Moose show in 2009.
When the Center announced the ticket prices, I was skeptical about the audience. I felt like her local fans, who had probably paid between $20 to $50 to see Carlile over the years wouldn’t shell out upwards of $200 in their hometown. However, the theater eventually filled up for the night of the performance, which makes me happy both for the Center and for Carlile.
Then, a week leading up to the show my roommate Madeleine surprised me with a ticket. I was overjoyed to get the chance to see Carlile again on my home turf. I dressed up, did a little pre-gaming and arrived early.
Since coming back from my isolated Iceland adventures, large crowds of people have been making me somewhat uneasy. Seeing folks I know always sparks a conversation about what the hell I’m doing with my life, which I am always prepared for, of course… But I did “the dance” as they say, and had a great time socializing in the lobby leading up to Carlile’s performance.
Sitting in the center of row JJ, up in the balcony, I admired the sound, which, as always, was impeccable. And as Carlile and the Twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth) wooed the crowd with an insanely tight, off-the-cuff acoustic set, I sat in the darkness and bawled my damn eyes out. She honored the space and delivered one hell of a show. After an a cappella rendition of “Beginning to Feel the Years,” Carlile addressed the important role the Center for the Arts plays in the community.
“It’s always good to re-experience the true moments of poetry in a space like this,” she said, speaking off-mic at the edge of the stage.
When she finally reached her closing song, “Pride and Joy,” I was literally convulsing trying to suppress my sobs. Just ridiculous.
Suffice it to say that Carlile’s lyrics have a pretty powerful effect on this gay, Wyoming-raised writer. I walked out of the auditorium lighter, both emotionally and physically. I lost a good three pounds of water weight via my eyeholes. I met the Center’s program director Shannon McCormick, who kindly put up with my requests to meet Carlile, “even just for a second!”
He made it work.
“Well, hey, I’m Brandi,” she said with her signature twang.
“Ha, I know,” I said like a doofus.
I shook her hand and proceeded to gush for a good 30 seconds, singing as many words of praise as I could. She looked exhausted and smiled politely, having gone through her own version of “the dance” countless times. We hugged, we parted ways, and I walked home perplexed, star-struck, kinda drunk.
Having performed at the Center, I know the magic that stage can produce. And as the Center continues to program for the community, I hope folks there book more artists like Carlile. Artists who may not have the biggest name recognition, but can truly transform that stage into something poetic, unique and powerful.
(Originally published in Planet JH)